Leading Worship

A long time ago I created guidelines for leading worship. In case they will be of use to anybody they are here. Do feel free to adapt and use as you like.

Leading worship 2009 MSW 2003


Leading worship at Brentwood Baptist Church – February 2009


for everybody contributing items to our services


This paper combines general advice with specific rules (marked in bold) about how Sunday services in Brentwood Baptist Church should be organised and led. It may be right on occasions to depart from those rules but please discuss plans to do so with Peter or the Elders in advance.


TIMINGSServices should begin promptly at 10.30 am or 6.30 pm. They should normally end when people expect them to end. Morning services will usually finish 11.35-11.45 or 11.45-11.55 with communion (revival excepted of course!) The children will normally go out between 10.50 and 10.55 am and NEVER later than 11 am. These timings are vital for crèche and Family Church leaders. Evening service timings are less critical but the evening service will usually finish 7.30-7.45, or a little later with communion.

The worship leader is responsible for sticking to the overall timings. So the worship leader will have sorted out beforehand how long anybody else will speak for (children’s talk, mission slots, prayers etc). If such a speaker is talking beyond their time, then the worship leader has the responsibility of deciding to cut out material following that item or else finding a way to tactfully tell the speaker to stop.


MUSIC – Unless there is an amazingly good reason not to, the first and last songs or hymns in any service will always be ones which most people already know and can sing well. If necessary teach the congregation and practise a new song before the service starts. It is usually good to sing single verse songs/choruses twice so that people who didn’t know it first time through can join in properly the second time. Please bear in mind that at this stage of the church’s life there are a number of folk who will not appreciate singing something more than two or three times through. Most services are likely to include at least one traditional hymn. They should also include at least one or two recent songs. Sally can supply a list of songs and also copies of more recently learned songs. It is not good if there is a great disparity between our services depending on who is leading them.  A more even spread of old and new is be more inclusive. With rare exceptions any service will not contain more than one or two new songs which the congregation have never sung before. If you want the church to learn a particular song, please speak to Sally.

Any musical rehearsals for the service should be completed at least 15 minutes before the start, to allow a time of quiet and reflective preparation, perhaps with instrumental music or a CD playing.


WORDS – Worship is so much more than singing and some people find singing more helpful than others.  A group of songs should be surrounded or interspersed by readings, set prayers etc.  Words/graphics/testimony are also less divisive than songs. If CDs are played as an aid to meditation, the words should be displayed on the screen.  This helps those who cannot make out the words sung and is especially important for contemporary songs.


PREPARING THE SERVICE – It will be clear in advance what the “style” of service will be e.g. “Ordinary Service,” “Family Service,” “Praise Celebration,” “Communion,” and so on. (Peter or Steve will always lead “Second Sunday” style services.) Peter or a visiting preacher will normally be able to confirm the Bible Reading and the Sermon title or theme early in the week. Please check with him whether there are any other special items to include, e.g. world mission slots, special topics for prayer, an extended time for response, etc. Worship leaders are free to involve any members of the church in the service. In particular, most services will include prayers of intercession and the Worship leader is responsible either for leading those prayers or finding somebody else to lead them. Open times of prayer work well in the evenings.

ORDER OF SERVICE – It is important to get the Order of Service into Yellow Pages if we can, which means to Lin in the office by Friday lunchtime, or earlier if different arrangements are in place that week. Surveys say having a published order of service is particularly helpful to guests and new Christians. By the same deadline the Order of Service should be sent to the Keyboard player and other musicians, to Mick Bastable to facilitate the projection of words, and to Peter to check (e.g. just in case you have forgotten to put in a sermon!)


MULTIMEDIA – Our services increasingly rely on DVDs, PowerPoint presentations, CDs etc. These should be included in the Order of Service. Words for any new songs should be sent to Mick on Friday or before so he can create a suitable presentation for them. DVD, CD and PowerPoint materials MUST be at church at least half an hour before the service begins to check that they work with our setup. We currently use Microsoft PowerPoint 2003, and cannot read files in PP 2007 format. Please also bear in mind that the software we use does not like preset timings on slideshows, and that DVDs must be run from the sound desk computer.

During the service it is very important that the worship leader keeps the projector operator informed of the order of verses, choruses etc. within songs. Ideally this should be checked beforehand. If the song is to be sung in a different order to that which is on the preset slides, this should be checked with the operator, and also explained as the song is being sung.


“SOMETHING FOR EVERYONE” – Our name for “children’s talks.” We have a rota for folk doing the children’s talk. These should last around five minutes and never more than 10 minutes. If the children’s talk is unexpectedly longer, it is still the Worship Leader’s responsibility to ensure (e.g. by missing out songs) that the children leave for their activities around 10.55 am and never after 11 am. There may be occasions when other items (e.g. the Drama Group performing, or an Act of Thanksgiving and Dedication) will replace any Something for Everyone item and the worship leader must tell the person on the SFE rota well in advance that their contribution will be postponed.


SFE can be about anything.  It is not essential that they relate closely to the theme of the worship or the sermon, although it can be nice if they do Peter is usually the preacher and therefore the person to contact about the reading and sermon subject. With a sermon series the themes of services can be known well in advance. Otherwise, it might not be possible to know until the week before. The rotas also tell you the worship leader, who might be taking a particular slant.  Communication can be helpful both ways, as knowing their approach might be helpful, but also there might be a particular song that would fit well immediately before or after your slot. Worship leaders often plan during the week before the service.

Events can arise which might mean the SFE slot would become inappropriate, or make the service too long. We should be able to let people know of this a week in advance so that you would not end up having to abort something you’d spent time preparing.

If you want to get in early to set things up, the church will be open from around 9.30.  If you want to use the computer/projector the person to contact is Mick Bastable, who sets everything up on Friday afternoons. CDs and DVDs are run through the sound desk computer.  It is worth checking in advance that the technology will do what you want it to do and that the person operating it knows what to do to make it do what you want it to do!

It is fine for SFE Leaders to swap with other people on the rota but you need to let the worship leader and Peter know of any changes.


TIMES OF SHARING or TESTIMONY – These are always good, especially in the evenings. But we have a responsibility to ensure that what is said is correct and acceptable. So Peter, Paul,  Bryan or Yen will normally “chair” times of sharing or be close at hand to challenge anything said which is inappropriate, or if necessary to stop the speaker. Laying on of hands in services is the Elders’ responsibility.



B. THOUGHTS ON WORSHIP – principally for worship leaders


The purposes of worship


The corporate worship of the church has a number of aims. The most important is to glorify God. If what we do isn’t glorifying to God, it isn’t worship! But worship also prepares people to hear God’s word as we draw near to God, and worship should follow as a response to God’s word. Our whole time of worship should be ‘an encounter with God’.

But then also our worship should express the fellowship and the oneness of the church. Our church services should be something more than a set of individuals individually worshipping. If we want to worship God in exactly the way we individually prefer we perhaps ought to stay at home. When we meet for worship it should be for CORPORATE worship.


Elements within Christian worship


PRAISE – Worship includes praise, thanksgiving and adoration. These can be expressed in words, in music, in movement, by speaking in tongues and in other ways too.


PRAYER – Worship also includes prayers: thanksgiving and adoration; confessions; petitions (requests for ourselves) and intercessions (requests for others). Prayer can include times of silence or be expressed in gifts of tongues and explanations. Leading others in prayer is much more than praying for oneself in front of other people. Leading in prayer is about using words and ideas which the congregation will be able to echo in their hearts and with their “Amen.” Although we usually pray “on the spot” there is much value in reading prepared written prayers and meditation, and leading the congregation to say together “set” prayers out of the Red hymn book or displayed on the screen.


GOD SPEAKING – Our worship should always include God speaking to us, through Bible readings, sermons, drama, music, video, art. God can also speak to us through discussions or question-and-answer sessions, or by means of spiritual gifts such as prophecy, words of knowledge and wisdom, and even through signs and wonders. We should also expect God to speak to each of us in times of silence and reflection.


OTHER ELEMENTS – Our worship can involve Communion and Baptism, acts of service and offerings. What we do when we worship together should simply be a continuation of the worship we offer to God every day in holy living and Christian service (Romans 12:1-2). All the above are valid elements of worship acceptable to God and offered by Christians through the ages. None are more or less spiritual than others.


DIALOGUE – By this we mean that worship should be a dialogue between us and God. God speaks, we respond, God speaks again, we respond again. The worship leader is in the unusual position of sometimes speaking FOR God to the congregation, but at other times leading the congregation as they speak or sing TO God in response.


OBJECTIVE and SUBJECTIVE – Some expressions of worship (especially but not exclusively singing) are “objective” in that they declare truths about God, man, salvation, our Christian hope, etc. Other expressions are “subjective” in that they declare what we feel about God and express our faith and commitment. Sometimes the “objective” can lead us on to “subjective”. Rapidly switching to and fro between objective and subjective elements is usually just confusing.


ENCOURAGEMENT and CHALLENGE – Some times of worship are inspiring because they encourage us. Others are significant because they challenge us.


TRIUMPH and COMPASSION – It is good to celebrate Christ’s victory. It is also important that people who at that time may be discouraged or suffering (due to sickness, grief, anxiety, doubt or many other reasons) are able to participate in the worship, or at least are not made to feel guilty or “a failure” because they find it hard to join in.


ORDER and SPONTENEITY – Many, on all ‘sides’ of the many ‘worship wars’ which have divided churches, mistakenly associate ‘noisy’ and ‘unstructured’ with ‘Spirit-led’ worship.

BALANCE and VARIETY – Over the months our services should include a balance of ALL the elements listed above, with some level of variety within every worship occasion.

Participants in worship


At most services there will be people at a variety of spiritual stages. There will be mature Christians, and new Christians, and seekers, and agnostics. Some elements of worship will be accessible to all and may seem superficial to the more mature. Other elements will put seekers and some new Christians out of their depth. The Bible teaching on stronger and weaker brothers (e.g. Romans 14-15) puts the greater responsibility on the stronger to make allowances for the weaker, but all should show love.

There will also be the complete range of ages at most services, from children and teens through to folk who are retired. With this also may come varieties in tastes, or social or educational background. We must ‘bear with one another in love.’

And there will be varieties of church experience. Some will be born-and-bred Baptists. Other may have come from other denominations or even other religions. Some may only have experienced church long ago as children in Sunday School. Others may have no church background whatsoever. Our services must bear ALL of these kinds of folk in mind.

A church which is seeking to grow must remember that unchurched folk and young folk may only give ‘church’ one try. To such folk worship must be culturally relevant or it will be inaccessible. We dare not expect non-Christians and new Christians to adjust to our established patterns. (What loving church could ever take such an attitude?) They will simply abandon ‘church’ altogether. So we need worship which will not discourage visitors (Christians or not) from returning. `Unchurched-friendly’ services will not guarantee that the unsaved will return again. `Unchurched-UNfriendly’ services will guarantee that they won’t return!

Variables within worship


In planning a worship service there are a number of factors which can be varied and it may help you as you prepare to lead worship to keep these in mind. Probably the most important are these:

Structure                               Rigid liturgy         <—————->         Total spontaneity

‘Teaching’                             Brief thought         <—————->         Lecture plus hymns

Participation                          Monologue           <—————->         All do everything

Shared Leadership                 One Leader           <—————->         Many Leaders

Spiritual Gifts                       Non-charismatic    <—————->        Charismatic

Degree of variety                   Predictable            <—————->         Always different

Musical style                         Traditional            <—————->         Contemporary

The importance of unity in worship


God-centred, Spirit-led worship is vital to every Christian and every church. Our worship should be the last place for disagreement. This is why the devil works so hard to undermine our worship through our selfishness, so that we become pre-occupied by our own tastes and preferences. Instead we should be asking ‘What will please God most?’ and ‘What will best build up the whole church?’

‘As a prisoner for the Lord, then, I urge you to live a life worthy of the calling you have received. Be completely humble and gentle; be patient, bearing with one another in love. Make every effort to keep the unity of the Spirit through the bond of peace. There is one body and one Spirit- just as you were called to one hope when you were called- one Lord, one faith, one baptism; one God and Father of all, who is over all and through all and in all.’   (Ephesians 4:1-6.)

We are called to love one another as Christ has loved us, even to lay down our lives for our friends. The theory sounds fine, but bearing with each other in love often turns out to be much harder in practice.


Our worship should be an expression and a celebration of the things we have in common, one body and one Spirit, one hope, one Lord, one faith, one baptism, one God and Father of all. Our worship should be the last place for disagreement, not a battleground over minor matters of difference. The most important ingredient in worship is our heart attitude, to worship in love and in Spirit and in truth. As Paul reminds us in 1 Corinthians 13, if we don’t have genuine love, we’ve got nothing at all!

God has called us together into the body of Christ. In that one body we are united by all the things we share, one Spirit, one hope, one Lord, one faith, one baptism, one God and Father of all. But Christians are human. We fall out. We disagree. We have different likes and dislikes. We aren’t meant to be uniform clones, but we are commanded to work hard at preserving the unity of the Spirit through the bond of peace. We don’t have to make that unity – God gives it. We must simply ensure that we don’t break the unity. So God commands us to be completely humble and gentle; to be patient, bearing with one another in love. And the area of our church’s life where this love and patience is most urgently needed at present is in our worship together.

Our corporate worship should be CORPORATE. However we may like to worship God as individuals or in Housegroups or at Spring Harvest Big Top Celebrations, when we meet on Sundays it is as Brentwood Baptist Church in worship. Our worship will be less than it could be and should be if some members of the church choose not to be present when we gather for worship, or are present but are refusing to participate. We cannot claim to be worshipping in Spirit and in truth if other members of the church are genuinely unable to enter into that worship with us.

The book of Revelation (e.g. Rev 5:8-14) especially reminds us that worship should give us a foretaste of heaven. If it doesn’t, we’re doing something wrong somewhere. Whatever our patterns of worship are, if we aren’t in unity and fellowship with those around us none of us will be able to worship God as we should. Our preferred style of worship should never be more precious to us than the God we are worshipping or the brothers and sisters He has given us.

Some people might think that our services have changes dramatically in the last couple of years. In reality our styles of worship have only varied a little within the very wide range of worship patterns on offer. Compared to a Roman Catholic Mass, or Eastern Orthodox worship, or the preaching services of St Helen’s Bishopsgate or the Charismatic worship of Elim Pentecostals and Housechurches, our services have continued within a relatively narrow range of styles. We are closer to each other than we think. Our tastes and preferences are more similar than we imagine. It is one of the strengths of Brentwood Baptist Church that we are moving forward in worship with a remarkable degree of unity. Let us continue to preserve the unity of the Spirit through the bond of peace.

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